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Match Your Meals with the Time You Have Available

One of the reasons we groan and say “Let’s go out to eat” is that we think cooking takes a lot of time. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. So let’s take a look at how long it really takes.

Basic Truths – Not all cooking is slow, and not all preparation is fast.

In the Healthy Fast Food Kitchen our focus will be on meals that require very little hands-on time and usually don’t follow a recipe per se. The foods may be hot or cold, take a long or a short time to cook, but they will require less of your devoted, focused, one-on-one time.

Many of recipes you will get here will be good candidates for preparing large batches and freezing. The more complicated menus will be recommended for once-a-month cooking or big batches. Sound good?

Make a Master List of Your Favorite Meals

If you can get really clear on several basic menus and make a master list of them to refer to frequently, your time spent in the kitchen will be dramatically reduced. You can learn to choose your menus based on a few simple, obvious truths.

To create this master plan, choose meals that are quick prep, quick cook or quick prep and EAT. Take a minute to think of favorite meals that fit this description, and jot them down on the Match Your Meals with Time worksheet. The payoff for taking this time now is that when you’re in a hurry and your mind goes blank, you can look at your worksheet for quick meal ideas. Here are a few distinctions that may or may not be obvious to you.

Cooking is something we do more of in the winter when we want hot food. We cook things like soup, roasts, casseroles, pasta dishes, hot breakfast cereals, quiche, crock pot meals, etc. (Some of these foods favor using recipes, longer cooking times and some of them can be adlibbed and cooked very quickly).

Preparing is something we do more of in the summer when we want lighter, cooler foods. We prepare things like sandwiches, raw veggie trays and side dishes, summer soups like gazpacho, salads (fruit, pasta, vegetable), appetizers, fruit desserts. These dishes favor more raw, quick prep styles and are usually served cold. They may or may not require recipes, depending on how experiential you are. I rarely use recipes.

Do Meals that Are Cooked or Prepared Take Longer? Neither. Some meals can be cooked very easily and quickly. And some prepared foods can be made quickly and easily. Concentrate on building a repertoire of these kinds of simple meals if you’re a cook on the run. I’ll give you many ideas throughout the year.

If you see a long, recipe, that’s a clue that it will be time intensive to make. You’ll probably need to buy special ingredients which will require special shopping trips; you’ll need to study the recipe, make it, test it, and tweak it. Save recipes like that for weekend or special occasion cooking. Or avoid them all together.

Good food (even great food) doesn’t have to take very much of your time to cook or prepare. Spend most of your time savoring and chewing it. You’ll be well ahead with this strategy.

When determining your Master Meal Plan Repertoire, think of the total time invested in the meal but then break that down into how much time you spend directly interacting with the food (preping and assembling) vs. time spent waiting for it to cook. Remember you can do other things, including putting your feet up, while you’re waiting for it to cook.

Here’s a simple sandwich that just takes minutes
to prepare and it is superb.

Awesome Summer Sandwich

(avocado, sliced veggies, and great bread)

To me, this sandwich is amazingly good. Oh, I wish I had one now. And it’s good for you too.


Start with whole grain bread, bun, or tortilla – and I don’t mean caramel colored white bread. Read the label to see if the first ingredient says whole wheat, whole oats, or whole rye, corn meal, etc.

Sandwich Spread

I use a thin smear of Light Mayo or Nayonnaise (soy mayonnaise) on one slice of bread (omit this step if you are trying to lose weight, don’t like it, or just don’t need it to enjoy it).

What’s Inside

  • Thin sliced cucumber
  • Thin sliced tomatoes (in Kansas they’re in season now. Marvelous.)
  • ½ sliced ripe avocado (put it in paper bag to ripen if it is still hard)
  • Thin slices of sweet onion (e.g., purple, Vidalia)

Note: For my tastes these four ingredients are awesome, so I wouldn’t want to mess up the perfect blend by adding anything else. But I know your tastes are probably different. You might want to try additional or different ingredients. Here are some suggestions.

Optional or Additional Toppers

Add or substitute any other combination of sliced veggies you like:

  • Radishes
  • Green, yellow, or red bell peppers
  • Zucchini or summer squash
  • Mushrooms

Packing it for Lunch

If you want to take this sandwich to work for lunch or pack it for your kids, wrap the bread separately in a plastic zip lock baggie*, a plastic container, or in wax paper (environmentally correct).

In a separate container, stack up the sliced veggies. Assemble at lunch time. It just takes a minute and the bread doesn’t get soggy that way.

Environmental Tip*
For sandwiches, I like to use plastic zip-lock baggies, but I wash and reuse them many times. I wouldn’t mind getting encouragement to use waxed paper if you’re up to encouraging me. (Later note: Actually, just saying that encouraged me. I used waxed paper last night to wrap rice and bean burritos I’m freezing, and it worked great. I’ll give you that burrito recipe next month.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping
I love this sandwich, but did you? Did your children like it? Write to me and tell me what you thought. Inquiring minds want to know. Am I all wet, or do you agree that this is an awesome summer sandwich?

Best Healthy Frozen Meals
When you’re in a big hurry, you may want to have a small supply of healthy entrees in the freezer. See how several of the top ones have been rated by

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